June 26, 2015
Today, in a blockbuster legal and cultural moment for the country, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples in the United States, no matter where they live, have the same legal right to marry as different-sex couples.
“Today’s ruling brings joy and relief to millions of Americans and their families,” said Mary L. Bonauto, Civil Rights Project Director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who argued before the Court on behalf of couples from Michigan and Kentucky, challenging their states’ marriage bans.
“It lifts up LGBTQ people and affirms that laws cannot allow discrimination or categorical exclusions of LGBTQ people simply for who they are. No single ruling can fix the scarring prejudice and stereotypes that have plagued good people for so long, but this can go a long way in helping people discover their common humanity.”
Quote from the decision.
The historic decision caps over forty years of legal challenges, grassroots activism, legislative advocacy, and steady change in public opinion. In 1999, Vermont’s Supreme Court became the first to rule that the marriage exclusion violates the constitution and inaugurated civil unions. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in which same-sex couples could legally marry as a result of GLAD’s case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which Bonauto also argued, kicking off years of increasing marriage equality momentum.
“Arriving at this moment at this time was not inevitable,” said GLAD’s Executive Director Janson Wu. “It happened now because people across the country – young and old, LGBT and straight, religious people and business people – stood up for fairness and their families and friends, and worked diligently and strategically to include same-sex couples in marriage. This was a movement marked by hope, tenacity, and smarts.”
On April 28, Bonauto argued Question 1, as formulated by the Court: “Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?” She represented April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse of Michigan, and spoke for them as well as for plaintiff Kentucky couples Tim Love and Lawrence Ysunza, and Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James, and committed and loving couples nationwide.
Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, partner in the law firm Ropes & Gray, addressed Question 2, as formulated by the Court: “Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?” Question 2 was also decided favorably today.
Co-counsel on the four cases are Lambda Legal (Ohio), National Center for Lesbian Rights (Tennessee), and the American Civil Liberties Union (marriage in Ohio and recognition in Kentucky), as well as talented private attorneys from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
Since 2004, following Massachusetts, 36 more states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Territory of Guam have enabled same-sex couples to legally marry through court cases, legislation, and ballot questions. Significantly, in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the case United States of America v. Windsor. That decision opened the door to a wave of successful federal district and appellate court decisions affirming the freedom to marry for same-sex couples across the nation.
Bonauto is a member of the legal team for the Michigan case, DeBoer v. Snyder, with co-counsel Dana Nessel, Carole Stanyar, Kenneth Mogill, and Robert Sedler. She has also consulted on strategy, organized amici briefs for numerous post-Windsor marriage cases across the country, and with WilmerHale submitted amici briefs for GLAD in those cases. GLAD’s challenges to DOMA, Gill v. OPM and Pedersen v. OPM, both spearheaded by Bonauto, also produced the first and other early rulings from three federal courts that DOMA was unconstitutional, setting the stage for Windsor.
The United States becomes the 20th country in the world where same-sex couples can legally marry nationally.